Banks consider ultimate Grinch move

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The ASX 200 posted its best 1 day gain in a fortnight led by banks and miners. Banks were underpinned by the notion that interest rates will remain lower for longer after yesterdays weak growth data. Miners rose on firmer iron ore prices.

The major banks are considering increasing variable interest rates. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

THE major banks are considering the ultimate Grinch act of raising variable interest rates, slugging the majority of mortgage holders in the lead up to Christmas.

And if the rates are not jacked up in December then economists believe they will be hiked during the new year when people are on holiday.

Smaller lenders have been the first to move, with a third last night slugging standard variable mortgage holders despite the Reserve Bank of Australia this week keeping the cash rate at a record low of 1.5 per cent.

The major banks are considering increasing variable interest rates. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

The major banks are considering increasing variable interest rates. Picture: AAP Image/Dean LewinsSource:AAP

RateCity spokesman Peter Arnold believes the big banks may follow suit by raising rates “any day” in the lead up to Christmas.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw one, it won’t be the best Christmas present for anyone on a variable rate mortgage but that’s not going to be the determining factor,” Mr Arnold said.

Yesterday ING Direct increased standard variable interest rates on residential property loans for owner occupiers and investors by 15 basis points, effective from next Monday.

This follows variable rate hikes in November from ME Bank for new customers and UBank for all customers with a mortgage.

The last time the major banks raised interest rates despite the official rate remaining unchanged or going down was November 2015 and the most recent one prior to that was 2012.

Finder.com.au spokesman Graham Cooke said most major lenders have increased their fixed rate mortgages within the past couple of weeks for both owner occupiers and investors.

“Three of the big four have started with shifting fixed-loan rates, but this may well spread to variable rates also … I would say we may be more likely to see (variable rate) movement in January,” he said.

Economist Saul Eslake said small lenders have been forced to raise rates because funding costs were increasing at a faster pace than their peers. Picture: Bob Barker

Economist Saul Eslake said small lenders have been forced to raise rates because funding costs were increasing at a faster pace than their peers. Picture: Bob BarkerSource:News Corp Australia

Independent economist Saul Eslake said the smaller lenders have been forced to raise rates because their funding costs were increasing at a faster pace than their larger peers.

He said the major banks will probably hold off hiking rates before Christmas because it could become a publicity disaster.

“If they were going to do it they would be more likely to do it in the silly season when most people are on holidays, sometime in January,” he said.

Economist Clifford Bennett said a rate hike from the majors was inevitable.

“It probably is inevitable though that the major banks will raise rates … I would say in the first quarter of next year.”

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said if the banks did raise variable rates in December or January then the RBA would probably cut interest rates by 25 basis points at its first meeting in February to 1.25 per cent to help ease the pain for homeowners.



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